The government must stop its disproportionate reaction to the Al Jazeera documentary
8 July 2020
We refer to the disproportionate reaction from government leaders and enforcement authorities sparked by the documentary entitled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown” released by Al Jazeera on 3 July 2020.
Yesterday, the authorities revealed that they are investigating Al Jazeera under section 500 of the Penal Code, section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act as well as section 4(1) of the Sedition Act.
We have carefully considered the entirety of the documentary, and state that there is nothing there that warrants any criminal investigation by the authorities. Nothing highlighted in the documentary is in fact new; it merely echoes criticisms already brought forth by various NGOs and SUHAKAM regarding the mass arrest conducted during the Movement Control Order (MCO). If there truly was anything that was misreported, the government could simply release their own statements to refute any inaccuracies.
Instead, the authorities appear to be determined to stifle any criticism regarding the mass crackdown on migrants during the MCO. Prior to the current investigations, in May 2020, journalist Tashny Sukumaran was investigated by the police under section 504 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act for her tweets regarding the immigration raid at Selangor Mansion.
These sort of heavy-handed response to criticism serves to threaten journalistic freedom. Freedom of the press is an important component of a democratic society. The press is the essential ‘Fourth Estate’ in our democratic polity. It is a corollary of the freedom of expression, a fundamental right enshrined under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution, and is therefore enshrined and protected.
On another equally alarming note, the Immigration Department yesterday has circulated a notice seeking public information on a Bangladeshi national for an investigation under the Immigration Act. This action comes in the wake of a warning by the Immigration Director General on 6 July 2020 that foreign nationals who make ‘inaccurate’ statements that damages Malaysia’s image may have their passes revoked.
The Bangladeshi man, who was featured in the Al-Jazeera documentary, is now victim to a slew of inflammatory and xenophobic attacks by a segment of the public for his criticism of the Government’s mass arrest of migrants during the MCO.
We are appalled that the authorities chose to single out this individual, an action which would have the unfortunate result of further stoking the disproportionate outrage this man is currently facing. The notice by the Immigration Department, which included the full name and the last known address of the Bangladeshi man, can be construed as a State-sanctioned witch hunt which could bring untold harm to this individual.
It must be noted that the Bangladeshi’s man concerns for the condition of his friend who is currently held in the detention centre is not without reason; an Indian tourist, Zeawdeen Kadar Masdan, is reported to have died on June 12 after contracting Covid-19 while under the Immigration Department’s detention. Thus, the decision by the Immigration authorities to threaten criminal action against him or any other concerned migrants is an unacceptable response that flies on the face of the law and basic human decency.
We strongly urge the authorities to immediately cease any criminal action against the Bangladeshi man. If the authorities believe that they need to respond to the criticism, they could just address it through an official statement.
The recent spate of investigations detrimental to free speech must stop. The government must uphold journalistic freedom and stop unnecessary attacks on the press. We also urge the government to take immediate steps to deescalate the rising xenophobic sentiments against migrants and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect. They must not be tolerant of any attacks on the migrant community, a group that has been significant in contributing to the growth of the nation.
Lawyers for Liberty